The best of the best - Pizzeria Via Mercanti
1. Pizzeria Via Mercanti
188 Augusta, at Denison Sq, 647-343-6647, pizzeriaviamercanti.ca
They say the benchmark for a great pizzaiolo is his or her Margherita. In that case, Romolo Salvati is the new grand master.
Now ensconced in his own Kensington kitchen, the former Queen Margherita Pizza chef makes a superb Margherita - chewy of crust, its soft, pliable centre finished with a proper sauce made with imported San Marzano tomato sauce, locally sourced fior di latte and the requisite basil leaf from someone's nonna's back yard ($10), no doubt.
But Salvati takes it one step futher by welding it atop a second sauce-free pie dressed with prosciutto crudo, hot soppressata salami, mushrooms and ricotta, thus creating Mercanti's one-of-a-kind signature ($19). Call it his pizza de résistance.
The Via Mercanti
Not everything's so architectural. For the Scarpariello ($15), Salvati switches out the Margherita's fior di latte for Grana Padano and piles on the garlic and chili pepper. His white Diavolo ($16) ditches the sauce and adds slow-cooked porchetta and roasted red peppers. And don't forget to drizzle his chili oil on almost everything except the tiramisu ($8).
Not in the mood for the whole enchilada? Make a snack of Mercanti's buck-a-pop bocconcini pizza balls stuffed with prosciutto and ricotta.
Cheap eats don't come any more delish.
Sunday to Thursday noon to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to midnight. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
The Di Parma Plus
1163 St Clair W, at Dufferin, 416-656-6159; 3175 Rutherford, at Jane, 905-532-0184, marcellospizzeria.com
If the exquisitely crusted sauceless pie heaped with shaved prosciutto, roasted garlic, raw arugula, buttery truffle oil and walnuts ($13.95) were on this 20-year-old Corso Italia trat's regular menu and not just an occasional special, it would easily have topped our list, but it isn't. The Di Parma ($12.50) comes close, but sans the truffle oil and walnuts.
Not that the other 'zas that emerge from the wood-burning oven are any less spectacularly executed - they're just a bit more mainstream in terms of toppings. The red Alla Compagnola ($14.50) shows up judiciously dressed with hot pepperoni, sweet roasted peppers and grilled eggplant, but a very cheesy Margherita ($9.75) arrives sprinkled with dried basil instead of fresh. Shame that.
Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 1 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
The C't Mang
720 Queen W, at Claremont, 416-504-0320; 57 Adelaide E, at Toronto, 416-203-3093; 106 Victoria, at Richmond E, 416-504-9998; 1095 Yonge, at Birch, 416-966-1372, terroni.ca
Is there any more contentious a local kitchen than Cosimo Mammoliti's? So he won't put cheese on your seafood, he doesn't allow substitutions and he refuses to cut his pizza into slices because they're meant to be folded. Big deal. Bring a pair of garden shears.
But oh what pizzas! The thinnest of charred crusts come as volcanically blistered as Vesuvius, their sweet San Marzano tomato sauce like Sicilian sunshine. Toppings range from trad like the Scattagengive with sauce, cacciatore sausage and spicy provolone to rad like the white C't Mang (both $16.95) with sliced pears, walnuts, Gorgonzola , smoked prosciutto speck and a drizzle of honey. That's pronounced "see-tay manje" and translates as wtf are you eating? However, be warned that the olives on any Terroni pie are of the unpitted variety and potentially dangerous to dental work.
Don't say they didn't warn you.
Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11:30 pm (Queen); Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm (Adelaide); Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday 5 to 11 pm (Victoria); Sunday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm (Yonge). Closed Sunday (Adelaide, Victoria). Licensed. Access: barrier-free (Queen, Victoria, Yonge); two steps at door, washrooms in basement (Adelaide).
4. Trevor Bar and Kitchen
When Trevor Wilkinson first started baking his astonishingly good Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas 18 months ago, they were only available through an online delivery service. Problem was, once the site's delivery fee and hidden automatic gratuity were added on, his $25 10-inch pies ended up costing more than 40 bucks apiece, or more depending on how far they had to travel. And when they eventually showed up, they'd often be stone cold. Understandably, that partnership didn't last long.
Wilkinson's since had a rethink and now offers these bountiful behemoths only as eat-ins at his downtown boîte's bar or as walk-in takeout. Or he'll put them in a cab if you like. That might sound like a lot of dough for not a lot of dough, but they're well worth the damage.
For starters, each pizza weighs over 2 and a half pounds. That's about three thin-crusted pies most anywhere else. And they come topped with a solid inch of either ground Butcher Shoppe sausage and mozzarella in sauce, smoked 'n' shredded chicken with feta or a ratatouille-like ragu of diced eggplant, mushrooms and cheddar.
One slice and you'll be stuffed till next Tuesday!
Tuesday to Saturday 4 pm till close. Closed Sunday, Monday. Licensed. Access: 13 steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
The Duck Confit
5. Pizzeria Libretto
221 Ossington, at Dundas W, 416-532-8000; 550 Danforth, at Carlaw, 416-466-0400, pizzerialibretto.com
We love you, Libretto, really we do.
We dig the buzz, we crave the 'za and we're over the moon that your Danforth location takes reservations. We don't even mind the almost-constant lineups that much, not when you can still get in 'n' out in an hour. And your weekday lunch prix fixe - salad, an Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana-certified Margherita or Marinara pie straight from your wood-burning oven followed by biscotti or gelato ($15) - is a major steal of a deal. But your crown is slipping.
We still think highly of your superlative pies, thin-crusted wonders like the combo of textbook sauce, house-made nduja sausage and DOP mozzarella, especially when splashed with chili oil. But a recent pie dressed with shredded duck confit, mozzarell' and sliced pears (both $17) - a former favourite - left us less than impressed, tasting like some weird dessert in need of a scoop of ice cream, a sploosh of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
Sometimes tough love hurts.
Monday to Saturday noon to 11 pm, Sunday 4 to 11 pm (Ossington); daily 11:30 am to 11 pm (Danforth). Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement (Ossington); two steps at door, washrooms in basement (Danforth).
The House Special
6. Danforth Pizza House
920 Danforth, at Jones, 416-463-4927
When it comes to kicking it old-school, this bare-bones parlour in Greektown - established 1964 - takes the cake. Just don't come expecting cracker-thin pies topped with slivered kiwi and seared foie gras. Designer pizza this ain't.
But if it's thickly crusted 'za with a soupçon of char around the edges lavishly dressed with pepperoni of no particular provenance as well as smoky bacon, retro green pepper and button mushrooms (House Special $13, tax inclusive) you're after, here's your pie. For the full-on effect, make sure to ask for double cheese ($3). Straight out of the oven, it virtually breathes!
Monday to Saturday 3 to 10 pm, Sunday and holidays 4 to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms.
7. Picea 997
997 Dupont, at Dovercourt, 416-804-4290, picea997.com
Taking its name from the Latin word for pizza and the year it was first mentioned, Kristen Brown and Ty Nesbitt's six-month-old Dovercourt Village resto has quickly become the emerging nabe's "it spot." Maybe it's because the cozy 50-seat room sports an imported wood-burning oven fabricated by Naples' Stefano Ferrara, the Enzo Ferrari of pizza oven builders.
Regulars know to start with a round of baseball-sized meatballs in San Marzano tomato sauce sided with slices of garlicky grilled Portuguese cornbread ($8) before moving onto first-rate pies such as the red or white Puzzoli ($15) with littleneck clams and fior di latte squirted with fresh lemon juice. Vegetarians will want to make a beeline for the fabulously charred 'n' chewy Ferdinand ($16) with sauce, mozzarella, roasted cherry tomatoes, fried sweet peppers and very wilted broccolini.
We'll be back if only for the red-sauced Capo ($17) and its heady mix of smoked provolone, hot soppressata and fresh basil drizzled in hot honey as well as Brown's awesome oven-finished chocolate cannoli ($10). And watch for Saturday and Sunday brunch starting this weekend.
Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm or "until the pizza dough runs out." Weekend brunch from 11 am. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement.
The La Scala
8. Queen Margherita Pizza
1402 Queen E, at Vancouver, 416-466-6555, queenmargheritapizza.ca
When John Chetti and crew's upmarket Leslieville pizzeria first launched three years ago, their only serious competition was Libretto and Terroni. My, how quickly times change! There's no question that QMP still bakes one of the better wood-fired pies in town, its just that this time around it's an entirely different playing field ($17).
We're nevertheless knocked out by Margherita's stripped-down Margherita ($13.95) and its none-more-authentic Napoletano ($16.95) with DOP San Marzano sauce, anchovies, pitted black olives, cherry tomatoes and capers. And who can resist La Scala's ($18.95) outrageously rich mix of locally sourced fior di latte, sharp Asiago, pork-belly pancetta, hot red chilies and raw arugula, all finished with a brush of garlicky salmoriglio parsley oil?
Expect the imminent launch of the second QMP at Annette and Jane any day now and a third QMP at Dundas West and Markham across from Susur Lee's Bent later this spring.
Sunday to Thursday noon to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 11 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: five steps at door, another 11 to dining room, washrooms on same floor.
9. Strada 241
241 Spadina, at Grange, 647-351-1200, strada241.com
Keeping a low profile of late after shuttering their Ame two years ago (remember the chi-chi resto-lounge on Mercer Street so exclusive it turned Nelly Furtado away from her own Juno Award party?), Zoom, Luce and Rain's Rubino brothers resurface with their most accessible operation yet: a pizza joint in Chinatown.
It's a tremendous space, a converted 19th-century warehouse transformed into an all-day café up front and a slightly more formal area to the rear. That's where a more-than-fashionable crowd gather to nosh on the likes of the Nina, a nicely charred pie thin of centre and thick of crust finished with pesto oil, gooey fior di latte, cherry tomatoes, asparagus and enough fresh celery leaves to keep a parakeet happy for a week.
The Alessandro (both $17) ups the ante with the Rubinos' fab house ragu, shaved parmigiano, hot chilies and a brace of the brothers' meatballs. Go the whole hog with the Gianpaolo ($19), another gorgeous pie, this time loaded with sauce, bufala di mozzarella, sliced mushrooms, wilted arugula and wild boar cacciatore.
We imagine Ms. Furtado would approve. If they let her in, that is.
Sunday to Wednesday noon to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday noon to midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
11 Clinton, at Henderson, 416-533-4101
Their crusts might be a little thinner these days, but everything else about this family-run parlour is exactly the same as it was back in the 60s, from the Italian ceramic tile on the walls to the limited lineup of pies.
Forget artisanal pork belly. These babies get topped with nothing more exotic than optional anchovies, and lots of them to boot. Most go with the standard pepperoni, green pepper and mushrooms ($11.80) upgraded with not terribly spicy sausage and hot banana peppers ($2.40). Wash them down with a bottle of Brio dispensed from a vintage Coke machine and fly back to a time when this really was the heart of Toronto's Little Italy.
Daily 11 am to midnight. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
11. Mangia e Bevi
260 King E, in the Ontario Design Centre, at Ontario, 416-203-1635, mbresto.com
Hidden away on the second floor of a downtown warehouse conversion, this breezy loft-like space may be hard to find, but its stellar pies are hard to forget.
From the classic lineup, go for the retro Canadese ($15) layered with sweet sauce, mozzarella, spicy soppressata and a veritable forest of mushrooms. Ditch the 'shrooms and add sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers and get a Communista. Listed under originals, the Burina (both $16) with sauce, cheese, pancetta and sausage packs a meaty punch.
Best of the bunch, the comparably simple Burrata's ($18) toppings of creamy fresh cheese, tomato sauce and a sprig of basil are the perfect foil for Bevi's exceptionally chewy charred crust.
Monday to Friday noon to 9:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 5 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free at King entrance (call ahead after 6 pm).
The Red Hot Chili Pepper
12. Pizzeria Defina
321 Roncesvalles, at Grenadier, 416-534-4414, pizzeriadefina.com
A relative newcomer to the suddenly hip strip, this cool 'n' casual cantina gets serious props for it's wood-fired pizza.
Salute the avenue with the Roncy ($16), a beautifully blistered pie loaded with thinly sliced potatoes, Asiago cheese, bacon-like pancetta and shredded guanciale ($16) or pay tribute to Flea and the gang with a Red Hot Chili Pepper ($17) blanketed with house San Marzano tomato sauce, creamy fior di latte, crumbled chorizo, salami and hellaceously hot jalapeños. And the only thing missing on the Lasagna pizza (more fior di latte with additional Bolognese sauce, ($14) are the noodles.
We're all for pushing the envelope, but the Schwart'z - pastrami with horseradish, Asiago and sauerkraut ($18) - is surely taking stationary a step too far.
Sunday to Thursday noon to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday noon to 2 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
13. G for Gelato
75 Jarvis, at Adelaide E, 416-792-1761, gforgelato.com
This family-run spot close to St James Park celebrates two of Italy's great passions: pizza and gelato.
From the lineup of modish pies, we prefer the cracker-thin Calabrese ($14) lightly dressed with San Marzano tomato sauce, a smidge of mozzarella, a few strips of roasted red pepper and see-through soppressata and a final toss of shrivelled black olives. Pitted, thankfully. G's all-veggie Con Arugula (both $14) comes topped with a heap o' bitter greens, diced vine tomatoes, some shaved parmigiano and a healthy splash of extra-virgin olive oil.
And if you're not afraid of anchovies, the G's Specialty - more house sauce, smooth fontina cheese, a handful of briny capers and those super-salty fish ($14.95) - is sure to appeal to fish aficionados.
Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday to Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, Sunday and holidays 11 am to 8 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, not washrooms.
The Pizza all'Uova
14. Gusto 101
101 Portland, at Adelaide W, 416-504-9669, gusto101.com
The lineups at this King West meat market aren't nearly as lengthy as they were last spring when it first opened, now that the young 'n' eligible have moved on to far trendier boîtes. Lucky us.
That means we can tuck into chef Daniel Mezzolo's remarkably thin-crusted 'zas ike the Da Dee ($15.50) with wilted kale, buttery fior di latte and thinly sliced sweet potato without the attendant feeding frenzy. Big meat-eaters can get their fix with the Polpette ($15.95), a San Marzano tomato-sauced pie loaded with smoked provolone and veal meatballs.
And if it were up to us, the brunch-only Pizza all'Uova ($14.95) with Pingue speck, chili oil and runny free-range eggs would be on the menu every day of the week. It's that good.
Monday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 1 am, Saturday 11 am to 1 am, Sunday 11 am to 10 pm; weekend brunch till 4 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.
15. Pizza e Pazzi
1182 St Clair W, at Dufferin, 647-352-7882; 672 St Clair W, at Christie, 647-748-7882, pizzaepazzi.ca
We've been fans of Danilo and Sandrelle Scimo's quirky AVPN-certified resto-lounge from the moment it launched two summers ago. In fact, we're on record for once naming it the fourth-best pizzeria in town, right behind Terroni, QPM and the almighty Libretto.
There are some dynamite deals to be had, most notably the apertivo special Monday to Wednesday from 5 to 7 pm, when the $10 purchase of a beverage - anything from non-alcoholic ginger ale to a flute of bubbly Persecco - gets you access to Pazzi's terrific salad and antipasti bar. Sometimes the spread even includes a cookbook-correct wood-fired Margherita made with DOP mozzarella and San Marzano sauce.
Imagine our surprise when the kitchen forgot to include the all-important truffle oil on our recent top-of-the-line takeout white Tartufata ($24.75) alongside its officially sanctioned cheese, 24-month-old prosciutto di Parma and myriad mushrooms. Luckily, the maitre d' caught the mistake just as we were about to leave.
Who says consistency doesn't count?
Monday 5 to 11 pm, Tuesday to Sunday noon to 11 pm (Dufferin); Monday to Thursday 5 to 11 pm, Friday to Sunday noon to 11 pm (Christie). Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
15 Toronto, at King, 416-366-4567; 330 Bay, at Adelaide W, 416-306-0467; 101 College, at Elizabeth, 416-595-5625, mercatto.ca
This mini-chain of Italian restos may look like your typical East Side Mario's but their impressive pies are several steps above. Several.
The business crowd lines up patiently at lunch, when the payoff's an unabashedly charred crust piled with duck confit and wild mushrooms in béchamel ($19) or spicy house-made sausage paired with roasted peppers ($17). We're not generally fans of pineapple on pizza, but we'll make an exception for the Mercatto, thick with ripe fruit, shaved pancetta, peperoncini chilies, cherry tomatoes, creamy fior di latte and snippets of fresh basil ($16).
Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Thursday to Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday 5 to 11 pm (Toronto); Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 9 pm (Bay); Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays (Toronto, College); Saturday, Sunday, holidays (Bay). Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
17. Bar Mozza
522 King W, at Brant, 416-362-0123, alimentofinefoods.com
The team behind this annex to the Alimento Fine Food Emporium know all about mozzarella. They should, since they also own the Grande Cheese Factory on Orfus Road.
Perhaps that explains why their Zi Marc pizza ($17) arrives under an avalanche of fior di latte, sharp aged caciocavallo, smoky provolone and freshly made ricotta, its thin crust barely blistered and beige. Another unorthodox pie, the Cipolla ($15) finds crunchy shaved fennel 'n' celery paired with more fior di latte, caramelized red onion and a small can's worth of tuna, like some Italian niçoise.
But we'll return for Mozza's Porchetta pie, that same cracker crust now dressed with shredded roast pork, San Marzano tomato sauce and pickled baby cocktail onions. Send them all into overdrive with the house bomba sauce, a meltdown-inducing mix of hot red chilies and mellow San Giovanni olive oil.
You'll thank us.
Monday to Saturday 8 am to 10 pm, lunch from 11:30 am, dinner from 5 pm. Closed Sunday, some holidays. Licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
1165 Queen West, at Northcote, 416-477-4652, piola.it
With outposts as far afield as Cancún, São Paulo and Istanbul (but not Constantinople), this Italian-based chain's Toronto branch is certainly one of the most stylish pizza spots around. Why, they even have their own magazine!
Most pies are in the Roman style: thin and edge free, with toppings spread evenly across the surface, the exception a Margherita-style Neapolitan ($18) layered with house sauce, fresh basil and bufala mozzarella. The Ortimisto ($14) is wall-to-wall veggies, including grilled and cherry tomatoes, while the Contadina ($16) contrasts smoked mozzarella and Italian sausage with bitter inner leaves of endive.
Even better, all pizzas are half-price Mondays, you get a free a glass of house red or white vino or a bottle of imported Moretti beer with every pizza sold Tuesdays, and on Sundays kids under 12 (one per adult) eat for free.
Monday to Thursday 5 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 1 am, Sunday noon to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
3010 Dundas W, at High Park, 416-763-4191, vesuviospizza.com
Some things never change, including places like this Junction gem, Toronto's longest-running pizza parlour.
You'll never see anything as unfashionably tasty as the Vesuvio Super - an entry-level tomato-sauced, mozzarella, pepperoni, mushroom and green pepper pie beefed up with bacon, ham and onion ($18) - on the menu at QMP, Libretto or the like, and we doubt Vesuvio's made the crusts this thin back in 1957 when they opened. But who's to argue with the incendiary kick of the Vulcan's hot capicola, hot sausage and even hotter green chilies?
Carnivores will like that they can upgrade the Vegetarian - green pepper, mushrooms, garlic, onion and sliced tomato ($18, all 14-inch) with a side order of house-made meatballs ($3.50).
And they can get it delivered.
Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday and holidays 3 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
20. Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza
1528 Danforth, at Rhodes, 416-463-7792
Back when the gourmet pizza food fad first hit Hogtown in the early 80s, this one-time Gerrard Street parlour was at the front of the pack. Thirty long years later, it's not exactly au courant.
Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with the 64 (!) different pies on offer. The signature thin-crusted pizza anointed with family-recipe sauce, fresh fior di latte and smoked salmon harkens back to the resto's heyday, but the Vulcano (both $16.50) with a whack of crotonese, soppressata and mozzarella needs more than regulation hot peppers to make it truly explosive. Back on track, the tomato-sauced Cappricosa's ($15.50) more contemporary mix of sliced ham, artichoke hearts and chopped soft-boiled egg proves they can still recapture the magic.
Monday 4 to 11 pm, Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Friday 11:30 am to midnight, Saturday 4 pm to midnight. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.
Photos by Steven Davey